Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 2 Hansard (3 March) . . Page.. 648..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
probably as a result of questions a member of cabinet may have asked, but I cannot swear to that. There was a discussion about the potential for the fire to impact on the electricity lines coming in to the ACT, across Namadgi National Park and the Brindabellas, a potential scenario being that if arcing was created as a result of smoke, ash, soot and other impediments in the air, an electric surge could essentially cause the MacGregor substation to do whatever they do-surges happen-resulting in 80 per cent of the ACT being left without electricity. In the context of that, what would we do if in the space of a minute 80 per cent of the ACT lost its electricity? I am assuming a lot here. I think the answer was that either Mr Castles, Mr Lucas-Smith or perhaps even Mr Keady said, "If we lost 80 per cent of our electricity, we would probably have to think about whether or not you needed a state of emergency declared."
Bushfires-declaration of a state of emergency
MR STEFANIAK: My question without notice is directed to the Deputy Chief Minister. On 19 February 2004, in response to a question that was published in the Canberra Times, the minister said:
I left the meeting thinking yes we have a problem, perhaps a repeat of the 2001 fires but nothing that would have come anywhere near the firestorm that hit.
An article in today's Canberra Times states that one of the note-takers for the cabinet briefing referred to "how significant the chance that a [state of emergency] will have to be declared"and, next to that statement, "40-60 per cent". A state of emergency had never been declared in the ACT before 18 January 2003 and it has never been declared in New South Wales for a bushfire.
As a former Minister for Emergency Services, the Deputy Chief Minister should know that the declaration of a state of emergency is considered only in serious circumstances. Why is the minister claiming that he did not appreciate the gravity of the threat that the ACT was facing when he was advised that it was a one in 20 year bushfire and that there was at least a 40 per cent chance that a state of emergency would need to be declared?
MR QUINLAN: An issue that was not referred to by the member-and an issue about which he might not want to hear-is that in general the tenor of the briefing did not communicate alarm. The briefing alerted us to the fact that we could have a problem. Members might remember that during the 2001 bushfires some spotting occurred in suburban areas. We thought that the 2003 bushfires might involve some spotting, or that they might be a bit worse than the 2001 bushfires. However, we were sure that we could handle the situation.
I am speaking in general terms about this issue. I, like the Chief Minister, did not take notes. I understand that the notes that were taken were not an ordered set of minutes of what was said-they were scattered notes. I assure members that the tenor of the briefing was not to cause alarm. There was no suggestion in the briefing that there was a wall of fire covering about two to three miles of open grassland and endangering a 32kV electricity line in Chapman, even though there was no forest for miles between it and the prevailing winds. Those factors were not communicated in that briefing.